Bucs-Titans practice: A year later and everything’s changed for Julio Jones – The Athletic

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Everything has changed for Julio Jones.

A year ago, when the Buccaneers and Titans met for joint practices in Tampa, Florida, Jones was weeks away from his first season with a new team, much like now.

The Titans had given a second-round pick last year to acquire Jones from the Falcons after a decade and seven Pro Bowl appearances in Atlanta. But Jones hadn’t even practiced yet when Tennessee came to Tampa, and he didn’t travel with the team. His one season with the Titans was marked by persistent hamstring issues that often kept him from practicing and ultimately sidelined him for seven games. He finished with one touchdown and was cut loose this spring after getting $15 million from Tennessee.

Now, almost cruelly for the Titans, the Bucs are in Nashville for two days of joint practices ahead of Saturday’s preseason game. Jones made the trip and was practicing Wednesday against his old team, catching passes in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 workouts.

Something you didn’t see at Bucs-Titans joint practices last year: Julio Jones practicing and catching passes. pic.twitter.com/XMzQAwHv1u

— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 17, 2022

The Bucs added Jones on a one-year, $6 million contract just as training camp started three weeks ago, and the most impressive aspect has been his health, consistently practicing among a careful schedule of veteran maintenance days off. He has joined what might be the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, setting a nightmare for opposing defenses trying to cover three former Pro Bowl receivers in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Jones, as well as his former Falcons teammate, Russell Gage.

“Everything is coming to me,” Jones said in Tampa last week. “You know, the game of football, you just don’t want to have to go out there and think. You want it to become second nature to you. But I’m picking it up fairly quickly and it’s been good.”

It’s surprising that Jones is somehow the healthiest of the Bucs’ top receivers, with Godwin still limited as he recovers from knee surgery, and Evans and Gage held out for the past week with minor hamstring injuries. He has been the focal point of opponents’ game plans his entire career, but now he has a chance to benefit from the attention his talented teammates also command.

“I just come out here and be me,” Jones said. “I have to go out here and approach each and every day like Julio Jones. I don’t go and say, ‘Well, OK, they’re going to ask this of me or that of me.’ I have a standard for myself and I go out each and every day to prove to myself.”

And while he’s been wearing a No. 85 jersey in his three weeks of training camp with the Bucs, don’t go out and buy a custom Jones jersey just yet. Some fans believe the 85 is just a placeholder until a cooler number becomes available with roster cuts in the next two weeks — his Falcons number (11) and Titans number (2) are claimed by the Bucs’ backup quarterbacks, and his old Alabama number (8) belongs to tight end Kyle Rudolph, but don’t be surprised if he has a new number before the season opener Sept. 11 in Dallas.

Signing an autograph for a Bucs fan in Nashville on Wednesday morning, he paused before completing his signature, typically punctuated with his jersey number. “I don’t have a number yet,” he told the young fan.

For those of you thinking 85 is a place-holder for Julio Jones, as he signed an autograph for a young Bucs fan, he even said “I don’t have a number yet.” pic.twitter.com/QFmfO9WLg5

— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 17, 2022

Jones will practice with the Bucs on Thursday, but coach Todd Bowles said Jones won’t play in Saturday’s preseason game, nor will most of the starters, though a few more will play than in last week’s opener against the Dolphins.

Carl Nassib gets back to work

The newest addition to the Bucs’ roster, outside linebacker Carl Nassib, joined the team in Nashville and was practicing for the first time Wednesday. Nassib played in Tampa from 2018 to 2019, getting 12.5 sacks before signing as a free agent with the Raiders, where he played the last two seasons. A foot injury sidelining Cam Gill in the preseason opener led to Tampa Bay reaching out to Nassib, who signed a one-year deal for the league veteran minimum of $1.035 million, with a $152,500 signing bonus.

“Today was my first day back in this scheme and some things are still up there (in his mind), but it’s going to take me a little while to get back into the speed of the scheme for sure,” said Nassib, wearing No. 93 because his old No. 94 is now worn by defensive lineman Will Previlon.

New Bucs OLB Carl Nassib on wearing No. 93 for Tampa Bay: “It was available. That’s why I chose it. It was available. Gerald McCoy, he texted me last night, he was like ‘Don’t mess it up.’” pic.twitter.com/POGbPl32TY

— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 17, 2022

When Nassib last played for the Bucs in 2019, they hadn’t been to the playoffs in 11 seasons. So much has changed for the team he now returns to, from the arrival of Tom Brady and a Super Bowl championship in 2020 to a division title last year. Much has changed for Nassib, as he came out as gay in the summer of 2021 while with the Raiders, becoming the first openly gay man to play in a regular-season game.

“It’s been great – nothing but a blessing,” Nassib said. “I’ve gotten the most support from friends, family, teammates, and I’m really, really happy. It’s a new year, I’m excited to be a football player again. I’m excited to just go out there and show what I’ve been doing (and) help the team in any way I can.”

Practice notes

• The Bucs’ ongoing battle at left guard continued Wednesday with Aaron Stinnie working with the first-team offensive line and rookie Luke Goedeke with the second. Tampa Bay’s interior line had its hands full in one-on-one workouts competing against Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, who made his first Pro Bowl last year and finished with 8.5 sacks.

• Among the Bucs players with family on hand was guard Shaq Mason, whose hometown of Columbia, Tenn., is about an hour south of Nashville.

• Bucs kicker Ryan Succop, who played for the Titans from 2014 to 2019, handled the kicking duties Wednesday, including a field goal from 50-plus as part of two-minute work at the end of practice. The Titans have smaller uprights inside the regular uprights on their practice field, and Succop’s kick was on target enough to split the smaller goal posts.

• The Bucs had two joint practices with the Dolphins last week and had regular practices on Monday and Tuesday, and Bowles said he thought fatigue was a factor in Wednesday’s drills. “I thought we looked a little tired going in, especially on both sides of the ball in the secondary, and the receivers as well,” he said. “So we’ve got to get some rest and we have to come out here and practice fresher tomorrow. Because we looked tired, I thought we had too many MEs (mental errors).”

(Photo: George Walker IV / USA Today)

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